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EDITORIALS

GUEST EDITORIAL: Chinese hackers hit Americans

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

People who use digital devices at home and for business know they may be susceptible to a virus or security breach. The worst threat comes from computer hackers who may have a vast amount of technical knowledge and the ability to crack codes and steal our personal information.

Major organizations employ experienced computer programmers to help build top-flight security programs and firewalls to protect themselves against hacking. It works sometimes. Unfortunately, some hackers are intelligent, knowledgeable and up to the task of breaking into a heavily protected computer system.

Last Monday, the Department of Justice announced it was four Chinese hackers who had done the unthinkable in 2017, and had broken into the computer system of credit reporting company Equifax. Presumably, the hackers could do a great deal of damage to Americans with that information.

The four alleged hackers — Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei — are members of China’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army, the FBI said. According to Wired’s Brian Barrett, they “conducted weeks of reconnaissance, running queries to give themselves a better sense of Equifax’s database structure and how many records it contained.” Web shells were apparently uploaded to gain access to the crucial databases, and the ability to mine this information.

“Think of breaking into a building: It’s a lot easier to do so if residents leave a first-floor window unlocked and you manage to steal employee IDs,” Barrett wrote.

The Chinese computer thieves proceeded to dig into these private files and stole the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and anything else they could find.

A grand total of 148 million Americans were reportedly affected.

This isn’t the first time. Back in 2014, five different members of the People’s Liberation Army were charged with stealing information from U.S. companies working in important industries such as energy, metals and manufacturing. The names of those hackers were revealed, too.

The indictment announced last week would seem to accomplish little, since the accused are in China, beyond the reach of U.S. officials. Yale Law School’s Robert D. Williams, writing in The Atlantic, called the U.S. reaction “a hopelessly anemic response to one of the largest personal-data breaches ever recorded.”

David Bowdich, deputy director of the FBI, argued otherwise.

“Some might wonder what good it does when these hackers are seemingly beyond our reach,” Bowdich said at a press conference. “We’ll use our unique authorities, our experiences, and our capabilities, with the help of our partners both at home or abroad, to fight this threat each and every day, and will continue to do so.”

The government certainly should be doing a better job fighting this threat, as U.S. Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., has repeatedly warned. He has argued that many of America’s systems remain vulnerable to enemy hackers.

We certainly hope the FBI can focus on such threats to the nation and do a better job than it has so far. Meanwhile, such attacks give Americans more reasons to distrust China’s intentions.

The Rhode Island Providence-Journal